Dust is a deeply held archetype in our culture. We all know the line "ashes to ashes and dust to dust," a variation on the King James translation of the Bible used in the English burial service:
"for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
What is dust?
Many people believe that dust is largely human skin cells. When asked, science journalist and author, Luis Villazon replied that most human skin ends up in the bath or shower. Two-thirds of the dust in the home or office comes from the outside.
It's dirt tracked in by your shoes, pollen and soot particles that are carried by active moving air, carpet fluff, clothes fibers, pet hair, animal dander, insect waste, even baking flower, and sometimes live insects, bacteria, and protozoans. Most dust is foreign to us, not part of the human body in any form.
Dust is not organized. It's a random collection of particles (some particles are liquid and others are living organisms). The particles vary in size and mass. Recent discoveries have pointed to great streams of tiny insects who travel in air currents overhead.
Professor Jason Chapman of Exeter College notes that there may be 3 billion insects a month passing overhead in air currents during summer months. Recent research found that small spiders use lengths of silk-like parachutes to carry them in air currents to distribute the species over a large radius.
Some of these creatures, or their shells, may appear in some of the larger particles in your dust. Dust particles are all very small and light enough to be carried about by random air currents. They vary in size from the edges of human visibility to submicroscopic.
The smaller and lighter the particle, the longer it can stay afloat in the air. Large dust particles fall back out of the airstream near where they came from. These larger particles are what you may see on cars and on furniture.
The Distribution of Dust.
Dust is in the air that we breathe. Large dust particles tend to be breathed in through the nose and trapped in your nose or mouth. They are often easily exhaled in your breath. Sometimes these large particles are swallowed, usually without effect, unless they carry allergens or organisms.
Smaller dust particles at the edges of invisibility or actually microscopic in size may penetrate deep in your lungs and some very small ones can find their way into your bloodstream through lung tissue. The dust may also work its way into your eyes and cause inflammation and irritation.
The effects of dust, including biological agents, and mineral particles are widely known. It can cause eye irritation, coughs, sneezing, hay fever, and it may cause asthma attacks (although no hard correlation has yet been found).
Harmful Effects of Dust.
Large amounts of dust inhaled by people in high dust environments or environments where dust is loaded with harmful chemicals can impair lung function, overwhelming macrophages and the natural defenses of the lungs to expel dust.
Particles of dust may also contain the organisms (like molds or fungi) that live on wheat or other plants that are processed industrially. These may be carried some distance in the air and be breathed in by people, causing diseases like histoplasmosis, psittacosis, and Q fever.
Dusts from a number of minerals accumulating in the lung cause deadly industrial diseases over the long term. Silica dust causes scarring in the lungs which reduces the elasticity of the lungs. Scar tissue caused by chronic exposure to asbestos dust, beryllium dust, or cobalt dust makes the lungs completely rigid and stiff.
Some particles may be dissolved or partly dissolved in the bloodstream. The foreign substances could be circulated through organs of the body and affect them in different ways. Foreign particles can affect the brain, the kidneys and other organs.
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